Punggol East By-Elections: How Will Votes Look Like?

How will votes look like for the Punggol East by-elections?

There are two ways you can look at it.

Extrapolation from Presidential Election 2011

First, we can take a look at the results of the presidential election in 2011 to have a glimpse of how things will shape.

In the presidential election in 2011, the results are as follows:

  • Tony Tan: 35.20%
  • Tan Cheng Bock: 34.85%
  • Tan Jee Say: 25.04%
  • Tan Kin Lian: 4.91%

What is interesting is how this is also a 4-corner fight.

Those who had voted for Tony Tan are most probably people who align with PAP, as PAP had given their endorsement to Tony Tan.

What is unclear is, for those who had voted for the other candidates, where they actually stand or which party they might align to.

However, the people who had voted for the other presidential candidates might not align themselves with any specific party, but you can observe from their temperament how they might align.

For those who had voted for Tan Cheng Bock, their temperament can be assumed to be one which prefers stability and a credible alternative to PAP. The people who would have voted for Tan Cheng Bock would most probably be voters of the Worker’s Party.

For those who had voted for Tan Jee Say, they would most probably be supporters of SDP. This is because he was previously a candidate for SDP at the general election in 2011. Also, SDP members have given their support to Tan Jee Say. Singaporeans would have also voted for Tan Jee Say because he is the only candidate who doesn’t have any previous allegiance to PAP and is seen as the most independent candidate. Among those who had voted for Tan Jee Say would also be those who would have voted for NSP. Some members of NSP have given their endorsement to Tan Jee Say. Additionally, the supporters of NSP would be those who have a stance between the want of stability under WP and the want for change under SDP. They are more likely to align themselves with WP than SDP, but because Tan Jee Say, even as he represents the change that SDP represents, Tan Jee Say seems to present a change that is more moderate and stabilising and would have also attracted those who would vote for NSP.

As for Tan Kin Lian, he had only garnered 4.91% of the votes because he isn’t seen as, as stabilising as Tan Cheng Bock is but isn’t seen as representing change as much as Tan Jay See is. The reason why he wasn’t able to garner as many votes was because the voters aligned with the other candidates more. You can roughly assume that those who would vote for Tan Kin Lian are those who do not have strong views or alliance or those who would sit on the fence, in a general sense.

Comparing the presidential election in 2011 with the Punggol East by-elections, you can see that PAP would always be able to secure at least 35% of the votes. Historically, this is about the proportion who would always vote steadfastly for PAP.

It can be assumed that those who had voted for Tan Cheng Bock would also vote for WP. So WP should be able to secure around 35% of the votes as well.

If SDP had contested in this by-election, you can see that they would present quite a strong challenge to PAP and WP. But it is important to note that the by-election isn’t the presidential election, and so the mindset that voters adopt will be quite different. I will talk about this a bit later. Since SDP is not running for the by-election, who will these voters vote for then? Those who are aligned to NSP would most likely vote for WP, as they would prefer stability. For those who would vote for SDP, those who align more with credibility will more likely vote for WP. For the the SDP supporters who align more with change, they might vote for RP.

I’m going to say that then, between 15% to 20% of the votes will go to WP which means that WP would be able to secure between 50% to 55% of the votes.

For the 5% who would vote for Tan Kin Lian, they would vote for either RP or SDA. If you were to split it, around 2% to 3% of the votes will go to SDA. Another 2% to 3% will go to RP. Coupled with the 5% to 10% who would swing from those who had voted for Tan Jee Say, about 7% to 13% of the votes will go to RP.

So in summary, these could be roughly the votes that will each party will garner for the Punggol East by-election:

  • WP: 50% to 55%
  • PAP: 35%
  • RP: 7% to 13%
  • SDA: 2% to 3%

But there are other factors to think about. The presidential election is different from the general election. And a by-election is different from the general election, so the mindsets that voters adopt would be very different.

Most Singaporeans do not see the president as having clear roles and function, as the president’s role has generally been described as ceremonial. Thus it can be assumed that Singaporeans would be more willing to vote with their allegiance, than weighing other considerations. So, the votes from the presidential elections is as straight-forward as it can be.

If the voters were to vote in the general elections, it can be assumed that as they would understand that the MPs that they vote for would have clearer functions of governance, both on a national and local level, they would weigh other considerations, such as experience. This means that in a general election, there would be some who would vote for WP who would vote for PAP which means WP’s votes will diluted. Also, some votes from those who would vote for NSP and SDP would also swing towards WP, and a few will trickle over to PAP.

In such a case, the following could be what we can expect for the Punggol East by-election, assuming that there is a swing of about 5%:

  • WP: 45% to 50%
  • PAP: 40%
  • RP: 2% to 7%
  • SDA: 2% to 3%

Does this mean that WP will win anyway? There is a very high chance.

As said, there’s also a difference between a general election and by-election. Why was the PAP not willing to hold by-elections in the past? This because at a by-elections, people would be able to vote more boldly. In a general election, a voter would consider that if they had voted based on their allegiance, would votes swing away from PAP? They might ask themselves if they are ready for a government which is not helmed by PAP. At the last general election, voters had shown that they won’t ready. And thus they had voted safely. Things might change in the general election in 2016, however.

Which brings us back to the by-election. Voters in a by-elections are not as held back by concerns of national governance, because for this by-election, they do not need to consider whether their votes will upset the balance of governance now. Thus they would more likely be able to vote boldly. Yet, this effect will be mitigated by the fact that in voter’s minds, the by-election is somewhat more similar to a general election than a presidential election. Also, a president doesn’t run the town councils. An MP does, so some voters will still tend to vote ‘safely’.

Taking into account the mindsets of voters, the votes for the Punggol East by-election might look like this:

  • WP: 48% to 53%
  • PAP: 35%
  • RP: 7% to 11%
  • SDA: 2% to 3%

This is a very likely scenario. If you look at the results of the Hougang by-election last year, WP took 62.09% of the votes, whereas PAP took only 37.91% of the votes, this even with the negative publicity that the mainstream media had created about WP. Those who would vote for RP and SDA at this by-election would have most likely voted for WP. The 2% to 3% who are sitting on the fence or do not have strong views could also have voted for PAP.

So, all in, you can see that it’s a likely scenario that because voters in the Punggol East by-election can vote more boldly and because they could vote for what they truly believe in, there is a very high possibility that even as votes for the ‘opposition’ parties can be diluted, because voters will vote with their hearts, only 35% of the votes will be firmly PAP’s.

Extrapolation from General Election 2011

You can also look at the general election of 2011 to get a sense of how votes will look like. In 2011, the performance of the different parties is as follows:

  • PAP: 60.14%
  • WP: 46.58%
  • RP: 31.78%
  • SDA: 30.06%

If you look at the trend from the past 3 elections, PAP’s vote share has been dropping steadily, WP’s rising more rapidly and SDA’s vote share had dropped. RP is a new party so it’s not clear how their vote share will change.

If the trend continues, it could be possible that the following could occur in the general election in 2016:

  • PAP: 56%
  • WP: 56%
  • RP: 31%?
  • SDA: 28%

This vote share is estimated based on the trend on voting behaviour over the past few general elections.

Again, noting that voters will more likely vote more honestly for a by-election because it’s only voting for one seat, voters will more likely allow themselves to vote as honestly as they can.

Also, noting that in the general election, all the constituencies were contested by only PAP and another party, except in Punggol East where there were 3 parties. This is where we can see the strength of PAP and WP, as compared to the other parties more clearly.

The results for the Punggol East constituency at the general election in 2011 is as follows:

  • PAP: 54.54%
  • WP: 41.01%
  • SDA: 4.45%

If you were to expect the change in vote share to occur on a national level to also occur on a local level, you can expect the following results to occur:

  • PAP: 48%
  • WP: 49%
  • SDA: 3%

If you throw RP into the fray, because RP had garnered a similar vote share on the national level as SDA had, yet RP might also attract those who would also vote for SDP, you can expect the vote share to be along the following lines:

  • PAP: 48%
  • WP: 45%
  • RP: 5%
  • SDA: 2%

For the above estimate, I had estimated that the vote share for RP would be at the expense of WP. This is also what PAP is counting on to happen to secure the seat.

However, as shared, because a by-election is localised and controlled and would have little impact on the national level, voters would be more inclined to vote as honestly as they would. There are many permutations, one of which could be as follows:

  • WP: 51%
  • PAP: 40%
  • RP: 7%
  • SDA: 2%

Noting that over the past one year, there is a growing group of Singaporeans who might feel that PAP has not responded to their needs as much as they would like PAP to, the vote share would also be changed accordingly, if there was a 3% shift in votes from PAP to WP. Below is one possible permutation:

  • WP: 54%
  • PAP: 37%
  • RP: 7%
  • SDA: 2%

This estimate isn’t too far off the estimate, if we had used the presidential election in 2011 as a gauge. To recap, the below was how the Punggol East by-election could turn out if we used the presidential election as a gauge:

  • WP: 48% to 53%
  • PAP: 35%
  • RP: 7% to 11%
  • SDA: 2% to 3%

So, will WP win the Punggol East by-election?

Factors Which Will Influence Voter Behaviour

It would depend on the following factors:

  1. If voters vote honestly and as true to what they believe in, there will always be about 35% who will vote for PAP, but the large proportion would more likely vote for the other parties. In the Punggol East by-elections, most of the votes will go to WP.
  2. Since voters are not constrained because their votes will not impact on the national level, they are able to vote as freely as they can. And if that’s the case, voters are more likely to vote away from PAP.
  3. It also depends on how unhappy Singaporeans are with PAP over the past one year, since the last general elections. This will determine how far the votes will swing away from PAP.
  4. WP’s Lee Li Lian is the only familiar face in the area. Voters might give preference to a familiar face.
  5. However, right before the Punggol East by-election, PAP had unveiled new cooling measures for housing, new MRT lines and new parenthood policies and programmes. Will this bait hook Singaporeans? It might, and this will determine the votes that PAP can retain.
  6. RP’s history isn’t clear, so it’s difficult to understand how many votes they will be able to garner.


In summary, for the Punggol East by-election, PAP’s vote share will definitely decrease, WP’s vote share will definitely increase. But how far WP’s vote share will increase will determine how much RP will be able to take away. This will determine who the winner will be, and it’s a straight fight between PAP and WP.

For me, it doesn’t make sense to vote for RP or SDA because it’s unlikely that they would win. If there are people who would not vote for PAP and want an opposition voice, it’s important to vote tactically. Only by voting for WP can they secure a sure win for any opposition to garner a seat.

If voters do not want PAP to win, then they should decisively vote for WP, so as to be able to put another opposition member into parliament. If they choose to vote for RP because they want change to be speedier, for example, it will only backfire on themselves. They would be able to prove that they want their voice to be heard by increasing the vote share of RP, but it wouldn’t help their cause if WP’s vote share is taken away by RP, and it ends up that PAP still wins. Then, for those who want change, change won’t happen – the seat will still be taken by PAP. For those who would vote for PAP, they would vote for PAP anyway, so there isn’t much to debate about here.

So, at this point, it’s important that voters vote tactically, with the intention of putting either PAP or an opposition decisively into parliament. And if they are determined for an opposition to enter parliament, they have to vote tactically and decisively for WP. This isn’t a contest of which party the voter prefers, but how they can bring balance into parliament. And right now, there’s only one clear choice if they want balance to be brought into parliament. This means voting tactically and not allowing their votes to be split unnecessary.


  1. Pingback: Punggol East By-Election 2013: The Aftermath and the Analysis | The Heart Truths
  2. Pingback: From the Punggol East By-Election, Singapore Perspectives 2013 to the Population White Paper 2013: Part 1 | The Heart Truths

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